Tee Martin, Steelers Quarterback, 2000-2001
First, can you let readers know about your coaching career?
I’m the wide receivers coach now here at USC. I started as a coach at Moorehouse College, coached high school for a while and then was the quarterbacks coach at New Mexico. From there I coached at the University of Kentucky before taking the USC job a couple of months ago.
I always wanted to be a coach – even as a kid. As a quarterback, I was the coach on the field so it’s a natural progression.Coaching was always what I saw as my future after playing.
What coaches and playing experiences influence you as a coach, and how?
The Steeler way – the way they did things. It was always first class. A hard-working, family oriented organization. Coach Cowher was a hard-nosed, grinding coach. I learned a lot from his coaching style. When to be physical. To take care if the football and relying on a power running game and a tough defense to win games.
You were drafted in the fifth round by the Steeler in 2000. How excited were you to be drafted by Pittsburgh?
My dad was a Joe Gilliam fan – he always wore his number seventeen jersey. Growing up a Steelers fan – being drafted by Pittsburgh was important to me.
Being drafted was a blessing to me – even if it was lower in the draft. Being drafted by Pittsburgh – it couldn’t have been a better story for me. Putting on the Steelers uniform – I was proud of it. I had a chance to see my dad the day after the draft – he was out of town. He was so excited…
What about your play do you think helped you make the team and how difficult was that for you?
It was tough making the team. Stewart just signed his new contract. Anthony Wright – I had a lot of respect for him as a player. And they just brought in Kent Graham. We were all competing for a job. I understood that. But I was the young quarterback on the staff. I wanted to be the successor if something happened to Kordell. I just focused on working hard. You can’t control the decisions.
Who helped you adjust to life in the NFL – both on and off the field?
Wayne Gandy and Jerome Bettis. Both made the right moves on and off the field. I was on the set of Jerome’s show once – I just liked the way he handled himself. I got to ask him questions and learned a lot from him.
Wayne gave me good input too. All of us young guys – me, Plaxico…we still maintain our relationships. Ward in Atlanta, Kordell doing tv…we all still talk. It was a good group of guys.
In 2001 you left Pittsburgh for Philadelphia – what prompted the move?
It was my third camp and they just signed Charlie Batch. They wanted a veteran backup and I saw the writing on the wall. They were going in a different direction with their quarterbacks and their style of play. It was the nature of the business.
How tight was the quarterbacks group and how frustrating was it for you not getting playing time?
We were a tight group. You know the higher paid guys will start unless there is an injury. Then, do you play a rookie or the veteran backup? I knew I wouldn’t play – it was a delicate situation. You understand it and just do your best to get better for the next team and opportunity.
As a competitor it’s frustrating, yeah. In college it’s different. The NFL is a day-to-day job. You could never get comfortable like you could in college. Every day was a blessing just to be on the team.
Was it harder coming off your success in Tennessee?
It wasn’t harder even with the success. When you are drafted in the firth round you understand. If there was no injury to Bledsoe you don’t hear about Tom Brady. I never had that situation happen for me. I never had a coach leave and take me with them. It’s frustrating but you just have to work to put yourself in the best position for the next job.
What do you think made you fall to the fifth round?
I can’t speak to why I was a fifth rounder. I never asked. I never look back. Being drafted was a big deal. I can’t say what happened after Tennessee. My numbers at the combine were better than everyone else’s. I can’t say what happened…
I needed to be more polished I guess. I wasn’t a finished product – I wasn’t at my best at the time I was drafted. I should have bene red-shirted – I needed more maturity. But it was my time to go. I was just a two-year starter – I was still developing when I got drafted. That’s how I felt in Pittsburgh too. I still felt I was in the developmental stage.
What do you think would surprise readers most about those Steelers teams you played for?
I think they would be surprised at how close we were. On tv you think you learn about the team. But we knew each other’s personal lives. We hung out a lot. The older guys had their cliques, so you develop cliques with the guys in your class. Jerome, Kordell, Gildon, Kevin Henry, Dawson and others – they all hung out with us though.
We all had mutual respect. That was undervalued – we had no egos. We had no fights in practice. All of them were great, professional men.
How did humor play a part on those teams?
Amos Zereoue had a great sense of humor. Bettis was entertaining all the time. It was the impromptu moments. Huntley and Ward…Troy Edwards….Bobby Shaw was very funny, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala was too.
Porter had those expensive remote control cars that they’d race at Latrobe. And the rookies always had to prove themselves. We had to sing our fight songs, I got tied up one night. We did the rookie show where we did jokes on players and coaches and they’d cheer or boo us….
What do you think of the rule changes in today’s NFL?
I think it’s for the safety of the players and for the business of the league. The league needs healthy guys. Guys that made the $100,000 contracts enabled the millionaires today. And no one watches if the those great players are hurt.
The kids today are bigger, stronger and faster. The equipment for safety got better, but there’s no substitute that can protect them from the violence of the game. The new rules will create better techniques – the need to wrap up players as opposed to laying them out. That’s for the betterment of the game.
What are our best memories as a Steeler?
Two moments. The first, when I first got to Pittsburgh as a rookie. That feeling that I’m really a Steeler.
And a Monday Night game versus the Ravens my second year. I don’t know why – but for some reason that game was the most fun and exciting for me.
Also, being one game away from a Super Bowl – watching Troy Brown return the punt for s touchdown against us. That was also big. That year and that game were great.
I cherished the rivalries against the Ravens and Browns. But most, I enjoyed playing with my teammates.